what we came home to*

IMG_5823 Callum and I took a quick trip to see some friends who had just moved to South Carolina, and this is what the house looked like when we got home.  The cabinets had been delivered between our Atlanta and Pawleys trips, but Neel unboxed them so he could play with the drawers.

IMG_5822 We're putting new cabinets in the pantry too, so Neel cleared out that room and pulled up the floor.

IMG_5816 Now the pantry is in the family room.  Maybe the microwave, the maple syrup and crisco should be near the tv given that football season is just around the corner.

IMG_5817 And here's my sink!  It was delivered while we were gone too.  We're having concrete counters poured and a concrete, farm style sink.  It's so hard to get an accurate representation of the color with the camera (I almost said "on film," but you can't really say "on film" anymore, can you?).  It's a deep charcoal gray with lots of swirls of darker and lighter shades of gray and deliberate imperfections. 

IMG_5819 I love it.

*And I learned at my grammar class that it's now okay to end sentences with prepositions.  Who knew?!

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step one was the stove

IMG_5163 Step Two:  My back is killing me Paint the island.


IMG_5188 We've changed the color from something called "cinnibar" (a brickish red) to something called "Brown Velvet," a Valspar Historical interior satin.  When you're stiring it in the can, it looks just like chocolate brownie mix as you add the liquids to the solids.  I've finished the frame of the island, the fronts of the drawers and two coats on the fronts of six of the eight doors.  I have to finish the backs of those six doors and both sides of the remaining two.  We have a stainless top on the island, and once the painting is done Neel is going to remove it and reanchor.  I'll paint the exposed underside then, and I'm thinking I'll do a contrasting color.  My back hurts, and I've had about enough of brown. 

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we had grilled cheese

IMG_5123 Ever since we knew the stove was going to be installed this week, I'd been racking my brain for ideas for what to make for our first meal on it.  My dad had tons of great suggestions like Beanie-Weenies or Spam.  Neel wanted pork chops.  Callum always wants fish.  My mind just couldn't settle on anything.   I think I was was daunted.  And overwhelmed.  It doesn't take much.  It looked, at one point that this might be a two day job, and I felt the barest hint of relief.  Off the hook.  No need to produce some fancy-schmancy meal with all the bells and whistles that first night at least.  When it was clear that things would be in a midden in the kitchen most of the day yesterday, Callum and I met Neel for Thai food for lunch and we ate our dang fool heads off.  So even though the guys finished up the job, still no dinner, right?  Again, I'm relieved.

IMG_5124 Not my family.  No matter how big his bowl of Noodle Soup, Neel can still eat dinner.  When he says, "We could make grilled cheese,"  I think, oh yeah, I can manage grilled cheese.  And I'm such a dork.  Because when I go to get out our little non-stick pan that we always make grilled cheese sandwiches in one at a time, and Neel says, "why don't you use the griddle?" I burst into tears.

IMG_5126 We celebrated with champagne and a DVRd episode of Top Chef Masters (I am really digging that show), and I am feeling pretty happy.

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work day

IMG_5115 We all worked hard around here today.  I don't have any pictures of Callum finishing this book in anticipation of the arrival of this book on our doorstep this afternoon, and now he's off doing the hard work that nine year olds do in the summer:  at the pool with his friends.

My work is on that lap top (thanks Dad and Happy Birthday!) and those papers spread about, but there have been people working much harder all around me.

IMG_5113 Here's the hole where our old, electric, ceramic top stove used to go.

IMG_5117 And here are some of the new stove men! 

IMG_5118 I love the new stove men!  They were here all day, troubleshooting and figuring things out.  They're just doing their jobs, making sure that our house doesn't explode when they run the gas line.

IMG_5121 I'm trying hard to avoid the old cliches, but they could have no idea how important it was for me to be cooking on a gas stove again.

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details, before the big picture

IMG_2816 I know I keep dropping these (tantalizing? probably not) nuggets about our kitchen plans here on the blog, but except in my head which is fair to exploding, not much is going on.  We're painting, and I've started in on our long-neglected trim work.  Callum watched me gather my supplies and asked, "What are you going to paint?"  I showed him the trim along one wall, and had him turn around to a wall of French doors surrounded by dingy white trim work.  "You're going to paint ALL THAT?"

When I told him this was just the beginning, that we'd move through the whole house, he was even more surprised.  "Even UPSTAIRS?!"  I don't blame him for the horror in his voice.  People, we have dentil molding to get through.  Neel can do that part.

I was reminded of the bridge from San Diego proper over to Coronado.   The year-long maintenance on that bridge included painting.  Once they made it from one end to the other, the end where the painters began had already started peeling, so they started all over again.

IMG_2817 Why do I have a feeling that that's what I'm in for.

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IMG_2824  Hydrangeas are quite possibly my favorite bush, and Neel knows how passionate I feel about them.  I love how blowsy and brash they are.  Hands on hips and bold, hydrangeas put it all out there.  We have a row of them along our shed.  One quite established, the others young upstarts.  It drives Neel crazy that the dogs tear in and out among them, paying no heed to his delicate babies.  We stopped by the hardware store on the way home from lacrosse last week to find some sort of fencing to wrap around this little bed.  (Neel was mad enough at those dogs that I think caution tape would have made him happy.)  We found some basic coated metal that almost disappears into the dense greenery.  Just what Mr. Gardener was looking for.  Tick.  One thing off the list.

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I still want things.  The problem with deciding to simplify your life is all the new stuff you need to do it.  I really do want to get rid of the clutter that is continuing to weigh me down, but in order to really do it right, I'll probably need these.  And this.  Add both of those things to my Christmas list.  The second in red.  Of course a new yoga mat would help me maintain my serenity...ooh!  Never mind!  Thanks Mom!  I love it!  Still, in case that doesn't do it (serenity can be mighty hard to come by), some yoga clothes would probably help too.

See?  It doesn't end.  But that's not a long list, really.  And they're all things I need, right?  To simplify my life and all.  Of course when you add the thing I really, really want to the list, the thing that I'd need to take on a second job to pay for, then we really get down to the brass tacks of want and need.  Or, the black cameras of want and need.  Oh gosh I want that camera.  Give me long enough and I'll find a way to rationalize needing it.

Our kitchen/family room is in a five year old addition onto our Depression-Era house.  It has two sets of ginormous, gloriously tall French doors looking out onto the back yard.  Each door  had these wooden grids tacked over top of the glass to look like panes.  As with much with this addition (including the doors themselves), they weren't installed properly, and they rattled around like anything and crumbs and dust got trapped underneath.  So yesterday Neel did his weekly ritual of wiping dog paw and nose prints off the windows and POP!  Off came the grid from one of the doors.  Stealthily, he popped the other off, so that one of our ginormous, gloriously tall French doors was grid free. 
        Neel says, "Hey, look at this."
        Lauren says, "Ohh!"

So we take the grids off the other doors.  I swear, I can NOT believe the difference that the absence of those dinky little grids makes.  Every time I walk in our front door, I think the back door is open!  It feels like a whole new kitchen, and that fact alone almost prompted a discussion about our kitchen that I was very anxious to have.  A discussion in which I tell Neel the changes I want to make to said kitchen.  And I say almost because as soon as we started to talk we got interrupted by neighbor Paul who had some ideas about how to fix the improperly installed doors.  Which was good because neighbor Paul saved us some of the imaginary money that Neel was planning to spend on getting said doors fixed.  To my mind, this frees up that money (imaginary or not) to do the things I want to do.  Now these were not big changes like a new six burner gas stove, new counter tops and possibly a new sink...he already knows about those things.  These were changes more like this:

It's an elfa wall system from The Container Store.  I like the stove too.  We have glass encased cabinets on one side of our stove, and I'm pretty sure I want plain shelves on the other side.  (See Neel, I told you I'd have to tell you on the blog!)  And wouldn't all my new white dishes look pretty on those shelves?  It's all about simplification, baby.

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for Ama...

When my mom was here, we were stunned to find an amazing deal on some roasters at Williams Sonoma.  This one, which is bigger than 9X13, was only $29.99, down from something like $135.  My mom got a smaller one, and hers was only $24.99.

I put it into action right away, with our favorite macaroni and cheese.  Neel, of course, ate the leftovers without telling me.

After she left, we put some new plants in our front porch planters.  We've had trouble with these planters this year.  I think we've killed three different things this spring and summer, but I have high hopes for the sweet potato vines.  These vines are all over this area and I love them.  Such a bright, almost neon green.   I really like they way they pop against the purple door and gray house.  These are babies, but the guy at the garden center said they'd trail like crazy, down the steps through the yard and across the street.

My mom hadn't seen them before, and their shocking chartreuse-ness is her favorite color, so I said I'd send pictures.  Are we all caught up now?

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summer days

We're back at Summer Camp this week (it's nearly killing me this go around), and Callum and I are both coming home tired and cranky (who me?). Until I have the energy for a real post, I thought I'd tide you over with some of our summer days.  This first picture was taken at the bay this weekend.  Just the three of us hanging in the water.  The red flags were up along the oceanfront (thanks to rough surf and rip currents), so we opted for calmer waters.

So you can't tell at all, but this is the new dining room.  It's impossible to photograph this room, but I'll keep trying.  Is it enough to know that I'm loving it?

I had a great morning on Saturday.  Went for a run, came home, waited on the front porch for Neel to get up and make coffee.  Once he did, we lingered together while Callum slept on, we chatted some and I was able to go almost cover to cover in this cookbook.  What slow-paced relaxing bliss.



IMG_9290 Neel did some planting.  Those are climbing hydrangea (for the fence), "stepables" (for the path) and honeysuckle (for Callum), respectively.

On Saturday evening, the 'hood traipsed over to the campus of the local university for an outdoor concert.  These are free every Saturday in summer (that night was bluegrass), and a wonderful, wonderful way to spend the evening.  Expect more posts from this patch of grass in the coming weeks.

Neel, Callum and our friend Zach get their bearings on our blanket before heading out to play.

How about a Red Stripe on a red-striped blanket?  Beer!

In case you were wondering, those are skulls on Neel's shorts.

My friend Tyler, the hand model.  Showing off the. best. deviled. eggs. EVER.  See the aforementioned cookbook for the recipe.

"Summer afternoon, summer afternoon.  The two most beautiful words in the English language." Henry James

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there's good news, and there's...not so good news


Well, the painting is coming apace.  This is a technique I've used in the dining room before (like, uh, last time).  The paints are called "Brilliant Metals and are by Valspar.  We got them at Lowe's.  The process consists of a base coat and then a pearlized top coat.  I can't remember the name of the green we used, but it was beautiful.  A deep hunterish green, with a touch of shimmer.  I loved the color, but it was too dark for this small interior room.  And well, really, from the very beginning, I wanted the room to be blue.  I must have asked for advice and then took it when I shouldn't have.

The color we're using now is called Aqua Impressions.  Because the green was so dark, we had to do a coat of Kilz.  The base coat is called Seaglass.  It's a milky white with the barest hint of green or blue.  Kind of like sea glass.  The top coat, the Aqua Impression is this fantastic pearlized blue.  Robin's Egg with shimmer. The good news is that I just love the color...love it.  The room is already feeling bigger and brighter.  It's just what I wanted last time.  The bad news, as I'm sitting here is that it's clear I will need another coat.  The top coat is very translucent-y.  Thin and hard to paint.  The effect is watery in a lot of places, but splotchy in others.  It doesn't help that we have incredibly thickly plastered walls.  Hard to paint.  So, another coat tomorrow and phase one of the dining room is finished.

Phase two will involve a new wall sconce, new chandelier (and of course the one I want is $380), and possibly, possibly one wall of wallpaper.  Ugh.  I don't like thinking about that one.

So last night I joined some gals from the 'hood at a local hangout and we had our palms read.  How fun is that?  Erin was a blast and so...I don't know how to say it.  Better than well-spoken.  (This reminds me of a tee shirt that Callum's second grade teacher would sometimes wear:  Some people have a way with words./Others not have way. God that cracks me up.)  Erin knew just how to say something that made perfect sense.  I know, I know, that's "well-spoken," but trust me, it was better than that.  And man, she nailed us.  All of us.  Six women.  Six beer-drinking women, right Jean?  We wished we'd had a tape recorder, and I keep thinking of things she said.  One came to me this morning:  (Mom, I guarantee you'll laugh out loud at this one.) other people's taste (good or bad) doesn't really bother me.  On the surface this sounds improbable.  Impossible, really.  NOT ME.  But she went on to say (And remember how well spoken she is, better than me.  I'm mangling this.) that I have my taste and confidence in it, so I can just appreciate that the stuff other people like is different from what I like.  No problem.  And, you know, she's right.  It didn't used to be true for me, but it's more so now.  Not completely, but more so.  I think I do have a better appreciation, just of other people around me.  One of my New Year's resolutions was to be less absolute in my judgements.  Maybe that's true.  But the palm reading was awesome.  I'm seriously going to invite her to my next dinner party.

And hey, you know what else is fun?  It's my dad's birthday.  Happy Birthday Alfie!

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sunday evening

I love this angle in my house.  Looking from our kitchen/family room through the dining room and into the living room.  I'm not sure why these angles appeal to me so much.  It's as if my life unfolds to you, room by room out the window through to the front yard.  I photograph them often.  This picture was taken Sunday evening in golden twilight as we await a thunder storm.  These three rooms look really nice right now.  I cleaned the crap out of them this weekend.


All of our surfaces were looking a little like this.  I vacuumed rugs and cushions and dusted everything.  This is the dustiest house I have ever lived in.  I no sooner dust every surface in sight then I find a gray film on everything.  Fruuuuuustrating.   There is seriously no getting ahead of it.   The island looks great now, but it's too dark to photograph it for you. 

I even wanted to mop.  I couldn't find our bucket anywhere.  What cruel twist of irony is that?  To actually want to mop and not have a bucket.  I  finally dumped out one of the bins Callum stores his Legos in only to find that our mop was busted too.  I did it anyway, so desperate was I.

I have a lot I'm thinking about my house right now.  An overwhelming need for order.  Heather Armstrong, over at dooce wrote a great post about coming home from vacation and wanting to reorder her life.  I'm not going as far as the 21-day cleanse, but I always feel that way after coming home from vacation.  Wanting to tend to things better than my normal sorry self can manage to.  So I got a little start this weekend, and it is very settling to see smooth and empty surfaces.

The wind has started to pick up out those big front windows.  Maybe we'll get a storm yet.

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technicolor spring


I turned down our street yesterday afternoon and it felt as if the world had burst into amazing technicolor.  Like Gone with the Wind after years of black and white movies.  It had a lot to do with the sunlight after all those days of gray and drizzle.  But the world is bursting with color, spring has exploded all around us.


Last fall Neel planted dozens of tulips like the one above, and they are all coming up now.  My favorite flower, all over our yard.


I love the azaleas too.  We have these droopy, blousy-white ones in our yard, and I love their cool beauty, but get a look at these, across the street...


Here's a close-up:


The shock of all that pink in a head-high hedge leaves me absolutely giddy.  I love the embarrassment of color. 

As I write this, it's a regular Monday evening around here.  Ina's roasted potato and fennel soup is burbling on the stove, making the house smell like licorice, a deep winter dinner on this early spring day.  The dogs keep slamming into the porch as they work out the wiggles after a day cooped in the house.  Callum's thrown a strawberry cheesecake popsicle from the Ice Cream Man into the freezer for after dinner and he wants nothing more than to climb a tree.  I'm tired, but happy, and I realize that I'm filled with a lot of hope.  My birthday is on the horizon, as is the one-year anniversary of this blog, and yeah, I have a lot of hope.  Neel's home, I just now hear the slam of his car door.  We're coming up on the anniversary of our first date and he's still the person I want to see most at the end of the day.  In my heart, hope and gratitude walk hand in hand..


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Bit by bit, piece by piece, we're getting it done around here.  First came the tree.  Lights and star one night and decorations the next.  We seem to get our tree earlier than we did when I was a kid.  I like having it up early.  I come down first every morning and turn the lights on before letting the dogs out.  It's the only light glowing in the living room.  The tree is my favorite part every year. 

I have boxes of family ornaments packed away in Tennessee.  I wouldn't mind having those again, but these are all ours.  Some made, some purchased, but all from the CFE.  Current Family Era.  I would like to have those old ornaments, but I'd need another tree.  Not that that's a bad thing.  I think I may be onto something.  Are those ornaments in the attic, Dad?

I made this pom pom garland last year and I love it.  It tangles easily, but I married an expert de-tangler, so that's no problem.  It's all teals, purples, blues greens and whites.  Good colors in our living room.

Last year, I was really sad at Christmas time, so I...ahem...spent a little money on decorations.  Until that year, I'd never really decorated beyond the tree and a poinsettia or two.  It just never occurred to me to take almost everything off the mantle and make it so different for the season, but I love it.  I may have been sad last year, but it sure is pretty around here now. 

Our living room was an entirely different color last Christmas, (more of a sky blue) so I had to switch out the candles, but other than that the decorations are the same.

Aside from the potted, fluffy flower things, most of the stuff on the mantle is not new, actually.  I love the winter-wonderland look of it. Sparkly ice crystals.

I'm also really enjoying this trend of non-traditional colors at Christmas time.  Teal!  Pink!  Ice Blue! That's what captured me so much last year.  The colors were so much more captivating than traditional red and green.

So we have red and pink and silver in the dining room.  Little presents scattered all over the table.

The family room feels more traditional, for us at least.  A more traditional garland, and splashes of gold instead of pink and teal.  Those reindeer are from Pottery Barn, years and years ago.  Isn't that one of the best things?  Getting out the stuff year after year?  Old friends.  And I like how the rooms flow from knock you out dressy to bits and pieces decorated.


Merry Christmas Little Gray House.  Time to get to work making presents.

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almost there


Remember this?


And this?

Well, all in good time, I said.  All in good time.  The bedroom is almost finished.  We're nearly there. 


It's an autumn bedroom now.  We have drapes instead of sheers.  The featherbed is back on and last night we sank into deep cloudy soft-piled marshmallow loveliness.  These were our first new pillows in years and seriously folks, I floated into sleep.


On pillows this soft, how could you not have sweet dreams?  I got new pillow cases too.  Bamboo...and cotton, I think.  I'll have to take another look at the fiber content.  But they're soft too!  Like buttah...  Or silk. 

It was fun, at first to sleep on the floor.  In a lush, mattress-and-box spring-on-the-floor-kind of way.  It reminded me of this picture from Little House on the Prairie.


Pretty cozy, huh?  And it was cozy for awhile.  But I had no idea it would take the bed as long to stain as it did.  Dratted humidity.  And it still didn't come together quite unscathed.  I'll have to go and do some touch-up sometime along the way.  Besides, after awhile cozy starts to hurt your back.  And look like your first apartment.  And Lucy starts to get restless.  Up and down, up and down.  Until finally, Friday night, she most insistently woke both me and Neel in order to be let out to chase a raccoon out of our back yard.  At four a.m.  Time to put the bed back together.  We all slept like babies.  If those babies aren't Callum.


We've never really decorated our bedroom.  It was just a place to put our bed and dresser and night stands.  Even Neel's nightstand is an old tv table that was left behind by the previous owners which he now claims he wants me to stain (Uh, Neel, my staining days are DONE...you are on your own.).  But this is coming together.  This is nice.  I want to get a rug.  We need (you know, when need means want) to reframe some photos.  I had some pictures of Callum enlarged, re-worked into black and white and framed for Neel for Father's Day several years ago and they hang above our bed ("Imagine if we had six Callum's...").  They now need darker frames, and that is proving harder to find than anticipated.

And finally, I really, really want to make us a quilt.  My original thought was gray and red.  Now I'm thinking gray and chocolate and caramel and red.  It'll probably take me the next ten years to do it.  But this room needs a quilt.


Until then, "Well it's bedtime," Ma said.

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a funny thing happened on the way to moving in


This dropped by. If it's the anniversary of moving into our home it's also the anniversary of this. To read the science stuff go here. Welcome to the East Coast.  Hurricane Isabel thought she'd throw a  little welcome party.  What a wild start to our life here.  Looking back I'm not sure I can even describe how surreal I felt as that storm bore down upon us.  If you weren't in her path, perhaps you weren't aware that for several days she moved back and forth between Category Four and Five status, and every morning I would creep downstairs to chew my nails and watch the morning news, surrounded by unpacked boxes and a too long cable wire. 

At first I didn't think much about Hurricane Isabel.  We had just moved into what we thought was the house of our dreams.  We had a yard!  We had neighbors!  We had a Pig Pick'n!  Neel was doing what he always does at this time of year:  writing a grant.  And Callum and I were getting us settled in.  For four-year-old Callum it was like Christmas as he opened boxes of toys he hadn't seen in a month, and for me it was much the same as I picked out paint chips.

I heard the first faint ping of a warning bell when Callum and I stopped in at The Home Depot for paint one day.  A young lady at the door said (before I'd really even stepped foot in the place), "If you're looking for generators, we're sold out."


We just want some paint, actually.  And some switchplate covers.  Thanks. 

But then I started to look around at everyone else's carts.  About half the people there were like me.  Toilets.  Pipe.  A pack of washers or screws.  Your basic Home Depot Run that you make a bajillion times during any given home improvement project.

The other half of those Home Depot-goers had carts filled with cases of water, big drills, flashlights, batteries and sheets and sheets of plywood.  They were out of generators.  That's when I got a little nervous.  I got brave and asked around.  People made suggestions.  Get some of those tap lights (they last longer than flashlights), stock up on water.   Callum made our way back into The Home Depot and followed their advice and then we went home and called Neel.

And every morning as Isabel bore down on us, I watched my new local news station and wondered what to do.  Do we stay and ride it out or do we go?  I asked neighbors, but hey, I didn't know these people.  How rational were they really?  (Turns out, some of them, not so much.)  So Neel would beaver away on his grant and Callum and I would beaver away on the house, stocking up on spaghettios and water and batteries and we waited.

Fortunately as the storm creeped closer, it diminished down to a Three then (thank God) a Two and finally a One.  We decided to stay.  Our house is oldish (about seventy years), so I wasn't too worried about it, except for the fact that we have a new, untried addition and it was quickly becoming clear that said addition had been built mostly with masking tape.  And spit.  Maybe some safety pins.  Neel nailed plywood along the french doors and we crossed our fingers. And I had to hope that this tiny, tiny hill in this flat, flat land would really be enough for us not to need flood insurance.  It was too late to get it anyway.

As night fell on the seventeenth of September, squalls of rain started moving through. We noticed that a lot of women and children had left town, and wondered if we'd been foolish to stick around. On the morning of the eighteenth the wind had picked up, as had the rain. With the plywood up, the house was eerily dark for so early in the day. I was painting in the livingroom around ten when a particularly strong gust hit the house and the power went out. It stayed out for five more days, and we were the lucky ones. Lots of neighborhoods were without power for almost two weeks, but then the mayor lives a few blocks down (not that that has anything to do with anything). Around noon we got in the car and took a quick drive around. Remember the house that we almost bought? The one the migraine talked me out of? Totally surrounded by water. The water was a real concern. We're not on water here, but surrounded, only blocks away in any direction by tidal rivers, and as the hardest part of rain and wind was hitting our coast, so was the highest tide. Late in the afternoon, when we were safely tucked in, our neighbor Tyler took his car out for a look around. Twenty minutes or so later our other neighbor John was towing him back up the street.

I'm a casual studier of the hurricane. My friend Sarah once said that I like works-in-progress. Long before I lived on a coast so effected by these storms, I've watched their progress and studied their seasons. So I knew that we'd have it rough for awhile, that the wind would eventually shift and that after hours and hours things would calm down. We bedded down in the dining room, surrounded by the boxes which we'd kept packed thinking that if it flooded they'd be easier to move up and that if a tree fell on the house they'd be easier to move down. And although this room was the most protected in the house, that wind shift made it feel the most vulnerable. I kept a tap light by my side of the mattress, and when I woke up needing to go to the bathroom, I lay in the bed a long time trying to decide what to do. What was my safest route? The wind, although we should be on the back side of the storm, was screaming around the house now, and the night was dark as pitch. Was the guest bath on the landing of the stairs the safest? Or the one behind the kitchen, which may be closer, but deeper in the dark? This house was too new to me to know its secret safe spots yet. That was a long night.


We woke the next morning the way most communities do after events like these: to skies scrubbed scouring-pad clean. We loaded Callum in the wagon and leashed our old pup Phoebe and like many neighbors, ventured forth to check things out. Things had happened during the day before that we wanted to check out. I remember looking across the street thinking, "am I seeing more sky than I did before?" Turns out that early in the day those neighbors lost a Bartlett Pear. A branch from our gumball fell on Tyler's shed, pretty much killing it, but he was planning to do that himself anyway. Our tree just helped. And the plywood that Neel put up? Turns out that was a good idea. It looked like it had been pressure washed with twigs and branches and leaves.

Still, I remember standing on our front porch and looking around thinking we got off pretty good. But that was just our street. One street down, I thought was a dead end, and it was...but about six blocks further down. The trees that were down only made it look like a dead end. We still contend a twister touched down there. Further down in the neighborhood live wires littered the streets. Trees rested on roof tops and across streets and cars. We joined a gathering of people on a corner as a couple were working on exiting their house, by climbing a tree. Turned out it was our realtor. Welcome to the neighborhood.

Turned out some wonderful things happened too, though. Some neighbors came over during the storm so we'd have everyone's phone numbers in case anything happened. Every night that the power was off after the storm we were invited to someone's house for a cookout as they cleared out freezers (we were lucky, we hadn't even stocked our fridge). And I almost wonder, what would it be like now? I'm not at all saying that I want it now. But we did it almost totally alone. We didn't know anything. Much less anyone. It was terrifying. It was exciting. It was unifying. Even then. How different would it be knowing we could all open a beer together? Welcome to the neighborhood.

Got your own Isabel story? I'd love to hear it. Pop a post in the comments and let me know.

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the little gray house


This week marks our fourth anniversary in the little gray house. I did not want to move here. Don't get me wrong, Neel is my home, and if he'd asked me to move here, here, or here I would have gladly gone. I even did go here!


Still, knowing how much I loved Greece from the time I was a young, young woman, you can imagine how very hard it was for me to leave our home in San Diego. That was where I really, finally felt at home. When we first came here, to scope the place out, it was early April and our little town-to-be was in the throws of a Nor 'Easter. I forgot to pack socks. It wasn't the wind and the rain and my cold ankles that caused me to sit up and cry in our hotel room ALL NIGHT LONG, it was the bone-deep loss of the place that, from before the moment we'd landed, sang to my soul.

We came again, later that summer, to look for houses. This was at the beginning of that out-of-control housing market that has deflated so alarmingly, and there were literally nine houses for sale in the neighborhood we were looking. What a depressing time. I was leaving behind everything that felt special to me and every house we looked at was more musty and ramshackle than the last. We saw one house, in the middle of creaky old kitchens and warped wood paneling that almost had us. The migraine I had that night brought me to my senses, and I called a halt. We would, it seemed, take this gigantic leap across the country without a place to land. We quickly put a deposit on a furnished apartment, made plans to put our stuff in storage, and headed to the beach for the rest of the week.


It was there, floating on my back in the Atlantic, that I think I started to be all right. This place I know. Although I grew up land-locked, my summer vacations were spent on the Atlantic coast. North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia. I know these gentle waves and this soft sand. I love the Pacific Ocean, but in it's tumultuous waves never could I dream of drifting on my back so aimlessly to eventually put my feet down and putter slowly back to my blanket. This might be okay.


And of course it is. We went home and packed up and literally followed the little gray house across the country. Pictures came to us in Las Vegas, and when we finally arrived, we dumped our stuff in the temporary condo, took showers and drove over to see it. We couldn't believe our luck. It was the nicest house we'd seen here, and we signed the papers that day. This is such a lovely house. Quirky and cottagey, with a bells and whistles kitchen not found in most of the houses we had previously searched. I love it that the thick plaster walls have a texture like a sandblasted beach and that even in the middle of the summer my livingroom can smell like woodsmoke. I love the yard we're taming and the walls we're painting and the sense that we're settling in somewhere. Maybe for good.


Neel and I had a lot of jokes about moving to this neighborhood. The way people talked about it (and not just the realtors) you'd think it was the first step on the stairway to heaven. A "front-yard neighborhood." Throwback to the fifties. People watch out for each other. A grid with everyone's names and phone numbers in a four block radius. Neighbors bring soup or brownies or wine. (Although we had a bit of worry in the very early days when Neel came home from work and made me a gin and tonic and we stood in the front yard with our drinks. The only ones with drinks. I worried about the fact that we were the only ones with drinks. Then I realized that growing up in East Tennessee in the heart of the Bible Belt was different from being in the south. Very different.) I wasn't sure I wanted that. I liked my space. My anonymity. I liked it that all I saw of the woman who had the condo next to ours was her vanity plate "luv wine." Front yard neighborhood? The best thing about California back yards were the privacy fences.


I think mostly I worried that moving into this neighborhood would be like an expanded grown-up version of my life in Junior High. Everyone would already know everyone else, and there I'd be, all awkward and left out. The only one with my own last name. Early in our life here each of our immediate neighbors had parties on the same weekend. One, we were invited to. It was October. My first fall in years. I wore a sweater and socks. I felt hot and uncomfortable and just as awkward as I'd expected to living here. Callum must have picked up my utter misery (either that or he knew that the daughter of the house was pure evil), and was enough of a pill that we had to go home. Once at home, through our open bedroom window, we could hear the sound of laughter weaving it's way up from Tyler's screened-in porch. His wasn't really a party. Just friends over for dinner. But I tried to fall asleep and Neel could hear slurp, slurp of my swallowed tears. "Back home, I used to be grateful for a weekend to ourselves. We were so busy and had so many friends." Slurp, Slurp, Slurp. "Now there are parties to the left of me and parties to the right of me, and I don't have any friends." Slurp. Even then I was laughing. I knew how ridiculous I sounded.

Now it's SOBO and Crab Feasts and firepits on Friday and Saturday nights (in the front yard) and Planter's Punch and Progressive Dinners and the love knows no bounds. There's nothing finer than coming home from work or school to find some of my favorite people gathered in one of our front yards. When we pulled in from Callum's birthday dinner Friday night, there they were, firepit lit, torches glowing, beer cold. Junior High-Schmunior High. So now? Now I can't imagine living anywhere else. This is okay. Happy Anniversary to us.

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